As they near graduation, many students are in a bind on “Topics for Students.” They haven’t yet declared their major, let alone decided what they want to do once they graduate. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone! Many students struggle with figuring out what to do after college. However, that doesn’t mean your future is bleak. On the contrary, now is the perfect time to explore your interests and refine your career aspirations – before you spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars on an undergraduate degree only to find out later it wasn’t right for you.
By identifying areas of personal interest and professional value earlier rather than later, you can greatly increase the likelihood of success post-graduation and decrease the likelihood of unemployment or underemployment as well as reduce your overall time spent in school.
Why Are Students Hesitant to Commit to a Major?
Students are often hesitant to commit to a major for a few different reasons. For one, the nature of different subjects means that for each, you’ll need to choose a specific path. For example, a student interested in biology might want to be a research scientist; a criminal justice major might want to work for the FBI, and a psychology major might be interested in working with children.
Though each of these paths seems clear enough, many students are hesitant to decide between them. In a worst-case scenario, if you choose the wrong path, you may need to spend an additional semester or two (or more) in school. And in the best-case scenario, you’ll simply be spending more time and money than necessary. Students are also hesitant to commit to a major because they don’t know what jobs are in demand and which industries are hiring.
While you can start exploring careers and industries after you’ve declared a major, it’s much easier to do so before you commit to a program of study.
Researching Your Interests
If you’re not sure what to do after college, the first thing you should do is take time to explore your interests. This will help you refine your career aspirations, identify potential career paths, and discover the value you bring to the workplace. There are many different ways to explore your interests. One of the best ways to discover your interests is to try new activities, explore different fields of study, and challenge yourself.
If you want to work in healthcare, for example, consider taking a first aid course or volunteering at a local clinic. You might want to major in biology and become a research scientist or explore the medical field from a different angle as a medical technician or healthcare administrator. No matter what industry or career path you’re interested in after graduation, there are several different ways to explore those interests while still in school.
Building Your Network
Once you’ve explored your interests, it’s time to start building your network. The first step is to identify people who are already in the career path you want to occupy. Make an effort to get to know these individuals and learn about their experiences and challenges. Start by asking these individuals questions about their careers, as well as what they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about their work experience.
You can also ask them how they got into the career path they currently occupy, whether or not they have any advice for you, and what advice they would give someone considering a similar career path. If you don’t have anyone in the field that you’re interested in, consider reaching out to alumni from your college who are pursuing a similar career path or industry.
Identifying Your Strengths
Once you have people in the field that you want to enter, it’s time to identify your strengths. You should spend some time thinking about which skills or areas of expertise might be useful in the workplace. Some of these will be obvious areas of knowledge such as being good at math or computers while others may be more difficult to identify but still very important; such as communication skills or leadership abilities.
It’s important that when considering your strengths, you focus on both those strengths that can easily be demonstrated on paper (such as a particular skill) as well as those personal talents that can’t be easily demonstrated through paper.
Networking and Discovering Your Professional Value
Students often overlook the value of networking and building connections with people in their desired field of work. Networking may not seem as exciting as discovering your interests, but it can be an incredibly important part of pre-graduation research. By building a network in your desired field of work, you can not only discover more information about career paths and company culture, but you can also discover your professional value.
You might not know what you want to do, but the people you meet at networking events, conferences, and career fairs can tell you what they need. And by listening and engaging in genuine conversations with your peers, you can identify ways you can add value to the workplace.
Researching Degree Programs
You know what you want to do and what value you want to provide to your chosen industry, but now you need to decide what degree program is best for you. While some programs might provide a particular benefit, others may be more suitable for certain careers. For example, a degree in computer science might be beneficial for a career in programming, but a degree in data science might be a better fit for someone who wants to work in artificial intelligence.
You can research degree programs by looking at online degree guides like the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, which provides information like expected earnings and tuition costs, as well as more in-depth information, like how many students in a given program typically graduate on time. You can also talk to faculty and advisors at your university to learn more about different degree programs.
Researching Company Culture and Climate
Once you’ve researched potential degree programs and potential companies, you can start researching company culture and climate. While you can do this by reading company reviews and employee profiles on company websites, you can get an even more in-depth picture by talking to people who work there. To do this, find employees at your desired companies who are willing to talk to you.
You can do this by visiting campus career fairs, visiting company booths at conferences, or reaching out to people directly via social media. You’ll benefit from this research in two ways. First, you’ll learn more about company culture and climates. Second, you’ll be able to share your own story and personal value at the same time.
Evaluating Potential Companies
Now that you’ve done the research and you have a list of potential companies, it’s time to evaluate them. To do this, ask yourself the following questions: When you evaluate companies, don’t just look at the numbers. Look at the company from a cultural perspective as well. What does their culture say about them? What do their culture and climate say about their employees? What do their culture and climate say about how they treat their employees? How do they treat customers?
How do they treat people of different genders, races, nationalities, religions, etc.? After you’ve evaluated potential companies based on cultural factors, it’s time to consider whether or not those companies are a good fit for you. This is where your values come into play. If a company doesn’t align with your values (and if they don’t align with your career goals), there may be no reason to work for that company.
For example, if you value being treated as an individual who is valued and respected by other people in the workplace, then stay away from any organization that treats its employees like products or commodities (not because of what they contribute to the company; because of how they are treated). On the other hand, if you value being treated like an individual who is valued and respected by other people in the workplace but also feel like there are growth opportunities.
Choosing a career path is a big decision, and there is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution for what to do after college. Choosing a major, however, does not have to be such a stressful decision. By researching different majors and discovering the skills and interests that these fields cultivate, you can find a career path that suits your interests, skills, and values. What you major in is less important than how you major. Choosing a major is a big deal.
It sets the trajectory for the next few years of your academic and professional life. You can make any major work if you put in the effort. The most important thing is to choose something you love and are passionate about. Then, go out and learn everything you can about it. Find people with expertise in your chosen field and interview them. Find books on that topic and read every single word. Find a mentor who can guide you through the process of becoming an expert in your field of choice…
However, if you take the time to research your interests, network with professionals in your industry, and gain insight into company culture and climate, you’ll greatly increase your chances of choosing the right career path for you. You’ll also be well on your way to a successful and fulfilling post-graduation life!